There are essentially two main elements which make up a “perfect wave”, the kind we used to draw on our school textbooks. First, it is the line-like aspect of its wall, its longevity, so to speak – the longer the better. Second, the cylindrical orientation of its crest when breaking, and the ensuing curtain of spray it produces. Few are the waves in the world which combine both. Jeffreys Bay is one of them.
Located a quarter of the way between Cape Town and Mozambique, in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, the town of Jeffreys Bay is a fishing village turned surf hub. The transition occurred in the 60s and early 70s, eventually setting the region to become one of the fastest-growing coastal communities in the country.
The bay faces the south-east; its wide, arched layout welcomes a range of southerly swells which tend to wrap around Cape St. Francis. It is particularly fond of the stormy ones that roll in from the south-west during wintertime (June, July, August) as an effect of the Roaring Forties. With these low-pressure systems come strong south-west winds which, fortunately, are channelled by mountain ranges to the north and hit J-Bay as lenient offshores, making the Southern Hemisphere Winter the best surf season in the region.
Most people, when they think of J-Bay, envision the wave of Supertubes – that pealing right-hander which rolls as far as the eyes can see. There is, however, much more to Jeffreys than that particular break. To an extent, Jeffreys Bay should have and could have been called Jeffreys BayS – with an S. That is because despite being located within a larger bay (which runs from Cape St. Francis to Port Elizabeth peninsula) it comprises a series of minor bays within it. These are either slight indentations on the coastline or a stretch of shore carved by two adjoining reefs (see map for reference), and although they aren’t considered bays, they affect the surf just the same.
With that in mind, it is important to note that the wave one usually sees when typing “Jbay surfing” on Google, is only one of the waves you can find. Granted, most people who mission to this part of the world want a taste of Supertubes. But the fact remains that Supers is not a wave pool – and you may be able to have just as much fun when paddling out to the North or South of it.
From the very tip of the first ‘bay’ within the town of Jeffreys Bay lies two spots: Phantoms and Kitchen Windows. The first, a right-hand point break that runs into a shallow sandbar, can be considered the very first break of J-Bay. The wave at Phantoms breaks over a rocky slab that forms an inconspicuous peninsula; its wall often decreases in size and intensity as it rolls down the line. It is an intermediate wave; the take-off can be tricky. For it to be surfable, it needs a rising tide – otherwise, it breaks too quickly and on the rocks. But on a good day, when the swell brings in enough water to wash over the sharp reef even on low tide, Phantoms provides long rides, mostly uncrowded, and potentially stretching to connect with Kitchen Windows.
The spot of Kitchen Windows, in turn, is set right at the start of Jeffreys Bay Main Beach – a patchy section that interweaves rocky platforms and sandbanks. Though its wave often runs as a point break wave, Kitchen Windows falls more in the category of reef break or even beach break. That is because, unlike Phantoms, there are various peaks to be found, and they tend to shift places with the tide and swells. Also unlike Phantoms, it breaks with a lot more consistency.
A mellow ride, with fat walls and slow take-off, Kitchen Windows is the best choice for beginners. It is also one of the only places in J-Bay you can go left. Large S swells provide rides just as long as Supertubes, though less adrenaline-laden and less crowded. That said, due to its accessibility (both to get to and to paddle in/out), you can expect to find frothing grommets hitting this spot daily after school.
Further up the beach, just before an inconspicuous peninsula that gives way to the north-facing part of Jeffreys Bay, you will come across another bay/indentation, with a sandy opening amidst the rocks. Wading in along the sand and paddling out to your right, is the spot of Magna Tubes – a shallow reef break that produces both rights and lefts, best on high tide.
Magna is a tricky wave to read: its take-off is highly unpredictable, its lip heavy, its face sections and sometimes closes out, and thus best left for intermediate to experienced surfers. In contrast, this spot picks up more swell than neighbouring Supertubes – a window of south-west to west, with south-east being optimal. And even though it can get crowded when it’s on, you are still looking at less than half the number of people in the line-up than the spots further north.
There is a reason why Boneyards is called Boneyards. Often seen as the gateway to Supertubes, this super shallow point-reef-break coerces surfers to think twice before they take off – and keep thinking carefully while negotiating the ride. On a strong S swell, the right-hander opens to a fast wall with unpredictable barrelling sections which, if tamed, will take you all the way to Supers on a good day. The left, on the other hand, only becomes safe to surf in smaller swells. If that is the case, it has the potential to take you right through to the area where Magna Tubes breaks. Another remark about Boneyards is that it is a somewhat localised spot. Therefore, as a visiting surfer, make sure to be respectful. If you do end up paddling out, make sure the tide is high or rising.
Supertubes is the kind of surf break to remind you of the sheer joy of riding a wave. It is also the kind to take its toll on your legs and arms. Even on an average day, the wall stretches so far and breaks so briskly that one can feel boggled as to what to do with it; you forget to pull turns and pump down the line whilst keeping an eye out for the curling lip. Then, after having ridden it for as long as possible, enjoy the surreal paddle back to the line-up – or the walk back along the beach to the channel – watching others revel in the same heaven-sent watery perfection.
That said, Supertubes can likewise be considered a highly technical wave. It begins with the paddle out: for most, this involves waddling on the uneven, mussel-covered basalt platform before jumping over whitewater and paddling hard until reaching the line-up. For the ones who can spot the keyhole a little to the left of Pepper Street entrance, that is the best option. It will still require a strenuous paddle out and potentially a lot of duck-diving, but you will avoid scrapping your feet or damaging your board on the reef.
The other highly technical aspect of Supertubes sprouts from the speed with which the wave breaks – it is Go, go, go! Especially if you are not Jordy Smith, this translates to being aware of when to turn and whether to turn at all, for sections like Impossibles will crash quick enough to block your passage altogether. Those who make it (often by pulling into the barrel and coming out on the other side) will likely find the green-light to reach the following sections – Salad Bowls and Coins. Should your legs allow, Tubes is up next.
Rather than a spot, Tubes is the name given to a section of the wave; it is a mediator between Supers and The Point. The name says it all: expect barrels. Whilst Tubes can be painting-like in medium S-SW swells and SW winds, it gets a bit turbulent when the size goes over 6 foot. And because the take-off area is so small, most people will choose to sit up at Supers or further down at The Point.
Even when considering the names, The Point already denotes something less hectic than its predecessors, as though it has been scaled-down. And this is precisely the case regarding the wave, too. That said, what it lacks in power it makes up for in length – the feature which attracts most surfers down here as opposed to the peaks further up. Moreover, The Point benefits in that it can handle large swells without having the shape of the waves disrupted. Although the wave peaks nicely on the take-off, it soon flattens somewhat to the point of compelling surfers to prioritise cutbacks and sharp turns over barrels…still, the latter are there.
Much like Supers, big days when the water movement is intense and waves keep rolling in will require you to paddle hard to reach the outside. However, when the swell drops down to around 4ft, provided that it has some South in it, The Point proves to be one of the most fun and accessible waves in Jeffreys for surfers of all levels – a great stepping stone before facing Supers or Boneyards. In contrast, this perfection and accessibility make it a favourite amongst locals, who guard the spot affectionately.
Albatross is literally the end of the road in J-Bay – at least in terms of waves. This sandbar scattered with rocks picks up the leftover pulses from Supertubes, converting them into mellower, slower, and smaller right-handers. Due to its beach-break elements, Albatross can work under conditions which its counterparts may struggle to, even if it is probably the least perfect and coveted wave in J-Bay. Once the right combination of swell direction (SE), tide (low), and wind (NW) come together, it pumps fun waves which are friendly to beginners and uncrowded.
Despite still being considered a town and not a city, infrastructure in J-Bay, especially surf-related, is top-notch. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and supermarkets to choose from, a hospital not far away, and reliable intercity connection. Accommodation-wise, surfers can choose from low-budget dorm beds in hostels to multifarious AirBnb and 4-star lodges with a view of Supertubes. Da Gama Road, the main road which runs parallel to the beach along the entire length of J-Bay, makes it easy to access all surf spots, whether by car, bike, or foot.
Another perk of J-Bay as a surf travel destination is that there is no shortage of surf shops. Whether you only need a block of wax or are considering getting a new wetsuit, the J-Bay Surf Village and other brand factory shops and outlets have an array of products at lower prices than you’d probably get at home. Jeffreys is also home to some of South Africa’s best surfboard shapers, and with the exchange rate of the Rand, ordering a custom-made board would be way cheaper than in Europe, Australia, or the USA.
An underrated bonus of a surf trip to Jeffreys Bay is that you will only be a short ride from St. Francis Bay – home to Bruce’s Beauties, the wave featured in Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer. Essentially, you could have two trips in one, bouncing between J-Bay and St. Francis as the swells, winds, and crowds shift. Cape St Francis is mostly a residential area, and though it is a lot quieter than Jeffreys, it also has options of accommodation, as well as great restaurants and cafes, for those who wish to stay for a few days.
And if there is a lull in the swell, you needn’t while your days until it picks up. Jeffreys Bay is also home to the Kabeljouws Lagoon – a large inlet in the north of the town proclaimed a Nature Reserve for its amazing local wildlife. From here you can set off on kayaking trips that take you through the reserve. Those looking for more adrenaline should take the beautiful, 1,5-hour drive west toward Nature’s Valley and the Bloukrans Bridge, home to the world’s highest commercial bungee jump. If making a day out of it, you could also stop at Tsitsikamma National Park and experience one of their scenic coastal trails.
Finally, no trip to South Africa is complete without a safari. Those coming to J-Bay have the country’s third-largest National Parks only an hour’s drive away near Port Elizabeth. The Addo Elephant Park offers visitors both day tours in the form of game drives or horse trails and overnight stays in bush camps or luxury cottages. Those who would like the full safari experience should consider spending the night and going on a night drive or sunrise tour. But if your priority is the waves, you could essentially leave Jeffreys Bay in the morning, spend the day at the park, and return in time for a sundown session.
How to get there
Fly to Johannesburg or Cape Town and catch a connecting flight to Port Elizabeth, then rent a car or hop on a bus to Jeffreys Bay. Alternatively, rent a car in Cape Town (roughly 700kms/8 hours) and drive up along the Garden Route or drive down from Johannesburg with a stopover in Durban (roughly 1,500kms/20 hours).
When to go
Peak surf season starts in May and runs until September.
What to take
Booties and 4.3mm wetsuit, one or two point-break-type shortboards with enough floatation to endure long paddles and a step-up for bigger days.
Type of trip
All types – from family holidays to wave search with friends.
Type of wave
Mainly reef-breaks with point-break configurations, mostly going right.
Most spots start working at 3ft and can hold up to 12ft, with the average size in the season being 6ft.
Level of surfing
Primarily for intermediates and advanced surfers, but beginners also have options.
World-class right-hand point breaks, variety of spots within close range, and relatively low cost of living.